“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
One of the most destructive daily habits I carried with me for a long time and I think it is a very common one for many people was the thought habit of catastrophizing.
This is when you build up a nightmare scenario of how everything could go totally wrong in some situation and imagine a big catastrophe in your mind.
You may have a presentation tomorrow and your mind starts to pull up a scenario where you have left your notes at home, you make a fool of yourself, you are embarrassed in front the whole company and your boss yells at you for 20 minutes after the meeting.
Scary stuff for sure.
So how did I learn to handle this one?
Let me share 4 steps that really help me.
Step 1: Loudly say stop to your inner critic.
The catastrophe that has started to brew in your mind comes from your inner critic.
He is telling you: “You will fail because it is what you always do.”
Or that you have not prepared enough.
Or that the boss will not be pleased with your presentation for some reason or other.
Or all of that.
So stop the inner critic quickly. In your mind, as soon as these thoughts pop up, shout:
Or: “NOPE, we are not going down that path again!”
This will disrupt that train of thought and help you toward feeling more level-headed again.
Step 2: Focus on your breathing.
After disrupting the thought be still for a minute or two. Sit down if you can.
Focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths. Nothing else.
This will calm your body down from the stress and it helps your mind to think more clearly and to return to what is happening right now in this moment instead of being lost in future nightmares.
Step 3: Look to the past for the truth.
Think back to your past.
How many times in the past have these catastrophe scenarios that your mind throws at you actually become reality?
Never or very few times I would imagine. That has certainly been the case for me.
So remind yourself of the actual facts from the past to calm yourself down even more and to draw yourself back to the more centered version of yourself.
Step 4: Talk it through and get input from a level-headed friend.
In many situations in my own life the first three steps has helped me to snap out of the catastrophe scenario and to think more calmly and clearly.
But sometimes that combination isn't quite enough. Maybe there are still some lingering negative thoughts and inner tensions that could start snowballing again.
If that’s the case then I like to let the catastrophe out. I talk it over with someone close to me.
By doing so, by just venting and having someone listening for a few minutes I can often see the situation for what it truly is. And so I calm down. Or the person listening can help out me out a bit more if needed and lend me his or her perceptive.
That helps me to ground myself in reality again and it has also helped me many times to find a solution or a first step that I can take to start changing this situation into something better if that is needed.